Author: John McLaughlin
“Christ, this place is a dump.”
Paul Braun glanced around the offices of Organic Transport, Columbus branch. Dust-streaked fliers pepper the walls:
Fifty-Thousand Credit Reward for Water Smugglers…
“Food Rioters To Be Shot On Sight,” says UN Commissioner…
A single clerk stood behind the counter, fidgeting nervously. “Good morning, sir,” the man greeted. He reached automatically for a brochure, the OT logo casting red flickers across his face. “How about an overview?”
“Yes, I think I’ll need one,” Paul said, fingering his sandy beard.
The man unfurled one leaflet for review, a list of transport options three feet in length. For the discerning refugee, a Platinum Organics plan was hard to beat: sentry guarded full-body transport through fifty years of spaceflight; thawing and reanimation at destination; and nano-repairs for any damaged goods. Paul didn’t even waste a glance at those.
Unfazed, he jumped ahead to the skimpiest Basic option: one and a half kilos of biomass, whatever you could fit in the canister. Just enough room for a brain and some spinal fluid to keep it happy. For an additional fee, the brain would be transplanted into a cloned body at destination.
Perfect. Paul had just enough to cover three Basics.
He opened his wallet to pluck out a credit chip, his last one, and shoved it into the clerk’s waiting hand.
A moment passed. The man frowned, knitting caterpillar eyebrows. “Mr. Braun, I’m afraid we can accept only one cephalon.”
“One brain, sir.”
“How’s that possible?” Paul demanded.
“It appears that BC Ranger will be the last Basic cargo haul out of North America,” the clerk said, “and totally filled to capacity. In fact, I’ll be onboard as well.”
He smiled, punched another key. “You’re quite lucky. This spot opened up just yesterday. Passenger accident–antifreeze failure during the cooldown phase.”
“What good does one spot do me?” Paul grated. “There’s myself and my two daughters.”
“Ah-h-h.” The man dropped his gaze. “I’m sorry but there’s a strict first come, first serve policy. Only a limited amount of tissue can be supported by the coolant system, you see.”
“There must be a way,” Paul mumbled to himself, voice trailing into silence. “Emma and Janice…”
Something came to him just then, a flicker of memory from a high school lecture–the classic case of split personalities. He could hear Mr. Sorrano pontificating: It is a curious fact of human psychology, that an entirely distinct persona can inhabit each hemisphere of the brain…
Paul stands in the immense shadow of the cargo liner, squints up at its frame. The few blackbirds left in the sky are drawing slow circles.
When the Ranger’s fusion jet finally kicks in, he turns and winds a path back through the empty lot.
He imagines the human diaspora hurtling towards interstellar space–an expanding sphere of fireflies fleeing a broken homeworld. There would be chaos; war and privation were almost ensured. Whatever fate brought next, the girls would need each other to survive.
He smiled. The bio-canister had been small indeed; small, but with room enough for its precious cargo. Two lifetimes woven through fourteen hundred grams.
Paul steals a last glance at the ship as it burns an arc over the horizon. One thought gave him solace: At least I know you’ll stick together.